What is Content Marketing?

what is content marketingThe Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focussed on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience”. Its rise to prominence has coincided with the change in consumer habits, where a knowledgeable consumer is able to easily and quickly access and assess the market. Technology has permitted consumers to reach a wealth of information, meaning that slick adverts and sales copy have far less impact on purchasing behaviours. Customer loyalty is now linked in the vast majority of industry and academic papers as being linked to the quality of information, previous experience and a sense of community, rather than traditional sales techniques. This means that companies and sites that provide up to date industry information become a valued resource, indirectly improving brand trust and loyalty; a new form of ‘soft’ marketing. Increasingly, customers react positively to information, not calls to action.

Content Marketing is not a new phenomenon. Michelin Guides, whose primary purpose was to allow drivers to find good accommodation whilst in their cars, were published in 1900, and despite there being no direct call to buy tyres, established the brand as a well trusted, household name. Tyre sales soared. Even Google’s acquisition of Youtube in 2006 could be seen as a company providing content in return for added brand exposure and trust, though the marketing revenues may have increased the appeal of the transaction. Branded magazines are the same. In fact, content marketing is already a huge business. The Content Marketing Institute shows that 88% of companies already spend budget on content creation, with some 25% of all marketing budgets being spent in this way.

How to make a Content Marketing Strategy Work

In providing the ‘valuable, relevant and consistent’ information integral to content marketing, companies build trust and loyalty in their expertise, whilst simultaneously increasing the likelihood of a sale. Consumers do not like feeling that they are prey to slick marketing, rather, they like to feel like experts, knowledgeable about the industry. It is in this capacity that good content marketing can make a real difference in an increasingly crowded online marketplace.

Traditional marketing, with big, colourful calls to action, attention grabbing banners and adverts are no longer producing the quantifiable results that they once did. Marketing is now an ongoing, real time medium, where facts and discussion have replaced slogans and deals. Companies like Microsoft, AIG and Land Rover have continued to surge forward in their sectors, not by rubbishing other companies or pushing their own wares, but by becoming trusted sources of relevant industry information. It is a strategy of trust, where consumers are (perceived) to be getting the most up to date, relevant information from which they can form their own, well informed opinion in their own time. And that decision is often to remain with the brand they trust.

Online, content marketing has added power in advancing a brand’s presence. Search engine algorithms rewards quality, relevant and up to date content. Content drives page ranking and traffic, and if it is accurate and trustworthy, then the content found on arrival then drives sales. Email marketing, so often maligned as ‘spam’, isn’t always a nuisance. We are all subject to a host of companies sending through regular marketing emails, (whether they were actively, or impassively requested), and the majority are never read.In some cases, over use of email marketing actively damages the reputation of a brand. Yet lost in amongst those emails, there are some which are of genuine interest, and these tend to be the ones where a call to action (a ‘buy buy buy’ button) is conspicuous by its absence. These are the marketing emails that increase brand affinity, and, in turn, brand loyalty. Subtly is increasing in its power to create purchases.

What Content to Use in Content Marketing?

The crux of the Content Marketing Institute’s definition is the two words ‘relevant’ and ‘valuable’. Without these two aspects, Content Marketing could still simply be the slick sales copy and distorted information that an educated consumer has become so wary of. Therefore, any information used as Content Marketing must satisfy both of these credentials.

However, posting sporadic, interesting articles, blogs or tweets does not constitute a coherent content marketing strategy. Visitors to site must be confident that the latest industry news, opinions and discussions will be immediately represented when the log in. This is how a site becomes a trusted source of information, and if the information supply is continual and holistic, there is no reason, nor desire to go to other sites for their industry information. Getting bookmarked is half the battle won.

Developing a Content Marketing Strategy

As with most strategies, before you can implement a successful content marketing strategy, you need to understand the goals. What is the strategy goal? Increase brand awareness? Increase email list? Increase sales? Increased upselling? Knowing the answer to this question will help to focus what content is required, and as importantly, what content is not.

Also essential in creating a working content marketing strategy is knowing the audience. A ‘clearly defined audience’ is an integral part of the Content Marketing Institute’s definition of the practice, and this aspect must not be overlooked. Different audiences react differently to content. Already educated audiences are easily patronised, whilst first time buyers can easily be overwhelmed by expert, technical documents, both of which result in rapid disengagement.

Multiple content marketing strategies, aimed at different audiences can work extremely well side by side, and the tracking permitted by SEO analytics and heat mapping tools online means that you can ‘get to know’ your customers and their preferences intricately. This information must then be fed back into the strategy, ensuring that the constantly evolving, relevant content stream can be maintained and constantly re-focussed on the strategy aims.

Of course, much of a content marketing strategy depends upon the resource available to contribute to it. With a dedicated in house marketing team, a daily, multi-channel content marketing strategy is possible, and can produce exceptional results. However, even with a very limited resource available, it is vital to keep a steady stream of relevant, valuable information available to consumers. If a site does not provide a constant, consistent content source, then consumers will find this information elsewhere. Content Marketing requires a dedicated approach to succeed.

If resources are restricted, a sporadic content marketing strategy must be developed. These tend to reply on sending information when it is available, (email marketing, social media) rather than encouraging inbound traffic.

Changes to Content Marketing Strategy

As content marketing becomes an old trick, strategies are having to be much more dynamic. With over 95% of Business to Business marketers and 82% of business to client marketers already using content marketing (Forbes, Content Marketing in 2015), understanding content marketing is more important than ever if you are going to stand out. This has led to only 32% of surveyed companies believing that their content marketing strategy is effective. This means that in 2 out of 3 businesses, their strategy leaves serious room for improvement.

Using visuals, infographics and easy to digest statistics is a much more effective method of transferring information that a detailed paragraph of text. In more than 90% of cases, articles or pages with a visual component receive more traffic than the same information on a text only piece. This can be tested in house via A/B Testing – a hugely useful tool in developing a coherent content marketing strategy. A/B testing is certainly not new, and there are few marketers without a strong grasp of its potential and its methods. However, are you really using it to its potential? A little extra work, and the benefits can be astonishing. Very small changes can have surprising benefits, but without constant tweaking and testing, how can the optimum combination of copy, infographics and phasing really be confirmed? Are your copywriters exactly right every time?

For some companies, there simply isn’t enough resource to produce and publish new, relevant information on a daily basis. This does not have to mean the premature death of a content marketing strategy. Instead, an article can be repurposed for a variety of mediums. A long article can then have its main convincers cut and tweeted, used to stimulate discussion on an in-house forum or adjusted as a blog. Publishing user content, when sensibly moderated, can produce genuine discussion, further promoting your brand as a brand that is open to investigation and accountable to the consumer.

However your content marketing strategy is constructed, the results, and return on investment must be closely monitored. As much time and energy should be spent on analysing results and testing content as producing it. Small companies must not baulk at this concept. There is much mileage in a single article. Create two versions, A/B Test, repurpose pieces of the same content and then monitor the various results. This will save a huge amount of time in the long run, as less time is wasted creating inappropriate or poorly performing content in the future.

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